Human Clay by Creed

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Human Clay by CreedHuman Clay is the 1999 second album by Creed, which built on the momentum of their fine 1997 debut to reach their climax of popularity. This #1 album was an instant success which surprisingly debuted at the top of the charts. The record rose to prominence by finding the right combination of post-grunge musical theatrics with anthem-laced pop melodies, laying a foundation that helped the group ride high as we entered into a new century and millennium.

The group’s self-financed debut, My Own Prison, became a surprise hit world wide and, at the time, was one of the Top 200 selling albums of all time. With the proceeds from that album, the group instantly began to compose and record music for a follow-up record, using the same formula of music by guitarist guitarist Mark Tremonti and lyrics by vocalist Scott Stapp.

Producer John Kurzweg also returned for this album. In recognition of what fans craved from the first album and not really being concerned with originality, Kurzweg built a continuation of the group’s successful sonic attack, which paralleled the thematic direction. According to Tremonti, this album’s theme (and cover art) is meant to represent our ability to lead our own path and make our own destiny. This, along with the theme of many songs, gives Human Clay a real spiritual feel throughout.


Human Clay by Creed
Released: September 28, 1999 (Wind-Up)
Produced by: John Kurzweg
Recorded: Winter 1998-1999
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Are You Ready?
What If
Beautiful
Say I
Wrong Way
Faceless Man
Never Die
With Arms Wide Open
Higher
Wash Away Those Years
Inside Us All
Scott Stapp – Lead Vocals
Mark Tremonti – Guitars, Vocals
Brian Marshall – Bass
Scott Phillips – Drums

Human Clay by Creed

 

The opening track “Are You Ready?” starts with an Eastern sounding intro before fully breaking into its rock verses, complete with some odd chord combos which at once make it a little clunky and a bit interesting. An issue with the early part of Human Clay is the formulaic song craft and this is almost immediately evident as “What If” sounds very similar to the opening track in sequence. However, this second song reached greater popularity as it was used in the film Scream 3 in 2000 and it’s accompanying video worked off that theme. “Beautiful” is another dramatic track with verses delicately picked in contrast to the sloshy rock choruses, while “Say I” is a choppy and thematic dark rocker.

Things start to get interesting with “Wrong Way”, a mini-suite with multiple forms and musical textures to make for a good overall listen. Here, Stapp exercises various levels of power and restraint vocally while Kurzweg adds B3 organ and guest Kirk Kelsey provides mandolin. “Faceless Man” is another good track, perhaps the best thus far on the album, with measured acoustic and electric combinations picked and strummed expertly by Tremonti along its compositional and some stand out bass by Brian Marshall. On the track “Never Die”, the band adopts some Alice-in-Chains-like simplicity with a grunge approach and hammered-on notes in the riff pattern. This track also features Scott Phillips providing his best drumming thus far.

Creed 1999

The album finishes strong with its most indelible tracks late in the sequence. “With Arms Wide Open” starts with subtle guitar textures with melodic lead vocals, offering the clearest pop sheen on top of the group’s typical hard edge, including some string arrangements in the uplifting arrangement. This song earned Stapp and Tremonti a Grammy Award for Best Rock Song in 2001, along with several other awards. “Higher” is the group’s ultimate acoustic grunge anthem with a fantastic hook that made this a great hit. Like the previous song, this makes nice use of bridge/outtro to take the song to a “higher” level. “Wash Away Those Years” follows as a quiet and dark ballad, leading to one final anthemic track, “Inside Us All”, to close the album with a theme that speaks to the “peace inside your soul”.

Human Clay sold nearly 20 million copies worldwide and charted all around the world. The album’s success was a mixed blessing as the group’s meteoric rise made them subject to some subsequent derision and Marshall struggled with substance abuse and was out of the group before the group recorded their third album in 2001.
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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Euphoria Mourning by Chris Cornell

Buy Euphoria Morning

Euphoria Morning by Chris CornellAfter a long but whirlwind career as the front man for Soundgarden, Chris Cornell forged his own musical direction with his 1999 debut solo record, Euphoria Mourning (originally titled Euphoria Morning). While still primarily a hard rock album, this work varies greatly from the grunge metal style of Soundgarden’s prime, with the organic compositions textured with rootsy and bluesy sounds throughout. With this altering of musical direction, while critically acclaimed, the album did not sell as well as previous Soundgarden releases.

Cornell co-founded Soundgarden in the mid 1980s, with the group breaking through with Badmotofinger in 1991 and ultimately reaching their commercial pinnacle with the success of 1994’s Superunknown, which topped the album charts and won multiple awards including a pair of Grammys. The highly anticipated follow up, Down On the Upside, was released two years later and featured a more experimental approach that caused creative tensions within the group and ultimately led to Soundgarden’s break up in 1997.

In collaboration with Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider of the band Eleven, Cornell began working on material for a solo album in 1998. Recording was done at their Los Angeles home studio, with the song “Sunshower” (a bonus track on some versions of Euphoria Mourning, being contributed to the Great Expectations soundtrack that year. Another song, “Heart of Honey” was recorded for the film Titan A.E., but it was not used for the soundtrack nor released on Euphoria Mourning. Cornell debated the album’s title, initially capitulating to his manager at the time, who favored “morning” but later reverting back to the ironically poetic “mourning” as the title’s cannon.


Euphoria Mourning by Chris Cornell
Released: September 21, 1999 (Interscope)
Produced by: Chris Cornell, Natasha Shneider & Alain Johannes
Recorded: 11 AD Studios, Los Angeles, 1998-1999
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Can’t Change Me
Flutter Girl
Preaching the End of the World
Follow My Way
When I’m Down
Mission
Wave Goodbye
Moonchild
Sweet Euphoria
Disappearing One
Pillow of Your Bones
Steel Rain
Chris Cornell – Lead Vocals, Guitars, harmonica
Alain Johannes – Guitars, Bass, Mandolin, Vocals
Natasha Shneider – Keyboards, Bass, Vocals
Josh Freese – DrumsEuphoria Morning by Chris Cornell

 

Cornell wrote all the lyrics to the songs, while Johannes and Shoeider composed the music on select tracks. The first of these is the opener
“Can’t Change Me”, which starts with a dramatic intro before quickly dissolving into the rock/waltz verse. The first single released from Euphoria Mourning, this opener features very melodic vocals over deliberative chord structure put forth in a pop/rock way. “Flutter Girl” follows with a slightly more alternative bent led by treated rhythms and guitar effects. This song originated during the Superunknown sessions, half a decade earlier. The introspective, acoustic ballad “Preaching the End of the World” is beautifully composed and produced with plenty of diverse textures and sound effects above the melancholy singer/songwriter core of the track, while “Follow My Way” is a moderate and deliberative rocker with some odd time signatures and a few upper gear’s of Cornell’s vocal intensity.

Next comes the bluesy jazzy club tune “When I’m Down”, featuring Cornell’s slightly crooning vocals along with light backing vocals. “Mission” reverts back to harder alternative rock, while “Wave Goodbye”, a tribute to the late great Jeff Buckley, is a slow and sloshy melodic blues tune. “Moon Child” cleverly adds country/psycedelic guitar leads to a moderate and consistent pop/rocker, followed by the acoustic “Sweet Euphoria” which features plenty of divergent chord structures.

Chris Cornell 1999

“Disappearing One” brings us back to a classic Soundgarden sound with great vocals above super-produced sound textures. “Pillow of Your Bones” has a unique title with a unique stylistic blend of traditional blues and Indo/Eastern elements along with fine execution of rhythmic elements by Josh Freese. With droning, slow alt/acoustic verses and choruses that have majestic vocals while maintaining tempo and feel, “Steel Rain” ends the original album at an unexpected place with an upbeat bass line, extra percussion and electronic effects accompanying the whining guitars. The later added “Sunshower” may be Cornell’s definitive solo work as an extraordinary melancholy romantic tune driven by a classical sounding dual acoustic soon topped by persistent modulating electric guitar. This song’s chord composition employs both moody descending and unique divergent patterns all to complement Cornell’s classic rock vocals.

While Euphoria Mourning sold over 75,000 in its first week reaching the Top 20 in both the US and Canada, the album ultimately proved commercially unsuccessful. Still, this album was critically acclaimed and acted as an important stepping stone between Cornell’s work with Soundgarden and the future group Audioslave, formed early in the new century.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Joe’s Garage by Frank Zappa

Buy Joe’s Garage Acts I, II & III

Joes Garage by Frank ZappaFrank Zappa is one of those musical figures that people either get or they don’t. If you happen to fall in the latter category and want to give his music another try, a good place to start would be Joe’s Garage. Zappa is very demanding. He makes little effort to be approachable. However this particular ‘project/object’ collection contains all of the Zappa benchmarks that his fans love: Musical virtuosity, social parody, pop satire, compositional complexity, stylistic diversity, crude lyrics and a wicked sense of humor. JOE’S GARAGE is a semi-political rock opera containing a variety of styles. But the primary focus on this particular outing is story-driven rock and roll in the tradition of The Who’s Tommy. Joe’s Garage, Act I and Acts II & III are release numbers 28 & 29 in Zappa’s 62-album discography.

1979 was a very productive year for Zappa. He released seven LPs’ worth of new material in the course of a year. Joe’s Garage was comprised of 3 records – Act I was released in September and Act II & Act III were released together two months later. This particular outing is a brilliant mix of stellar musicianship, social commentary, melodic pieces, scathing lyrics, guitar improvisation, detailed production and humor. It is highly creative, imaginative and above all, quite a bit of fun. Joe’s Garage is noted for its use of “Xenochrony”, a recording technique created by Zappa that takes guitar solos from older live recordings and overdubs them onto newer studio recordings to produce random musical coincidences. Zappa described this album as a stupid little story about how the government is going to do away with music.

Frank Zappa moved into Village Recorders on April 11, 1979 planning to record a couple of songs and leave. By the first of June, he and his entourage had completed a dozen tunes. According to one studio staffer, Zappa claimed to have exhausted his supply of written material, but asked to extend his stay nonetheless. “I’m going home and writing an opera this weekend,” he told the skeptical staff. The following Monday, he was back in the studio with Joe’s Garage. This concept piece wove the material Zappa had already recorded with other songs he’d written over the weekend.


Joe’s Garage Acts I, II & III by Frank Zappa
Released: Act I released on September 17, 1979 (Zappa Records)
Acts II & III released on November 19, 1979 (Zappa Records)
Produced by: Frank Zappa
Recorded: Villiage Recorders, Hollywood, CA, April-August, 1979
Joe’s Garage, Act I
Act I, Side 1: Joe’s Exploits Act I, Side 2: Sex and Side Gigs
The Central Scrutinizer
Joe’s Garage
Catholic Girls
Crew Slut
Wet T-Shirt Nite
Toad-O Line
Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?
Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up
Scrutinizer Postlude
Joe’s Garage, Acts II & III
Act II, Side 1: The Closet Act II, Side 2: Prison
A Token of My Extreme
Stick It Out
Sy Borg
Dong Work for Yuda
Keep It Greasy
Outside Now
Act III, Side 1: Dystopian Society Act III, Side 2: Imaginary Guitar Notes
He Used to Cut the Grass
Packard Goose
Watermelon in Easter Hay
A Little Green Rosetta
Musicians
Frank Zappa – Lead Vocals, Lead Guitar
Warren Cuccurullo – Rhythm Guitar, Vocals
Denny Walley – Slide Guitar, Vocals
Peter Wolf – Keyboards
Tommy Mars – Keyboards
Arthur Barrow – Bass, Guitar
Patrick O’Hearn – Bass
Ed Mann – Percussion, Vocals
Vinnie Colaiuta – Drums, Combustible Vapors, Optometric Abandon
Jeff Hollie – Tenor Sax
Earle Dumler – Baritone Sax
Bill Nugent – Bass Sax
Craig Steward – Harmonica
Ike Willis, Dale Bozzio, Al Malkin, Terry Bozzio, and The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen – Vocals & Chorus

 

The rock opera starts with a spoken word narrative by “The Central Scrutinizer”. The narrator tells us what can happen if we choose a career in music. He warns us that it will not be an easy life if we chose to go down that path. The protagonist, Joe, doesn’t heed the government’s warning and sets out on his journey on the title track, “Joe’s Garage”. This song accurately describes a typical teenager’s first trip to his friends’ garage to jam with his buddies. The plot chronicles the journey from the first band practice to the eventual record deal, followed by changing musical trends, the subsequent loss of the record deal, and then nostalgia for the innocence of the old garage days.

Joe’s band starts getting their first gigs at church functions and Joe sings about the virtues of their original fans, the “Catholic Girls”, in this intricate drum-workout song with the 9/16 time signature breaks. Zappa name checks two members of his band, master drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and guitarist Warren Cuccurullo, later of Missing Persons and Duran Duran fame. The story introduces a new character, Mary, who is the innocent “Catholic Girl” of the aforementioned song, and chronicles her ominous evolution in the next song; the raucous blues number “Crew Slut”. Portrayed by Dale Bozzio, a later founding member of Missing Persons. Mary is also the central figure in the following funk-rock-pop-samba, “Wet T-shirt Nite”. Even if the lyrics offend, there is always the brilliantly complex music chugging underneath. Mary’s character arc is now complete. This composition contains a marvelous Carlos Santana-like guitar jam outro.

He Used to Cut the Grass

Following the trajectory of Joe’s story so far, the next song asks the obvious question, “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?” This is a purposely juvenile, AOR-type rock song with lavatory lyrics but with a complex bridge that reminds you of Genesis or King Crimson at their most bombastic. The song is quite the juxtaposition of 3 distinctly different styles that Zappa loves to combine to create his own unique genre. “Lucille Has Messed My Mind Up” is a semi-serious reggae song about a girl that seduced Joe then abandoned him after he developed feelings for her. Joe is getting pretty discouraged in this light, soulful ballad. This is really the only song on the record without ‘eyebrows’ on it. That is the term Zappa used to add his distinct personality to all of his music from synclavier solos to large orchestral pieces.

Frank Zappa Joes Garage Acts II and IIIActs II & III opens with “A Token of My Extreme”. This song has a gorgeous melody and an impossibly cool drum and bass section that people still study. JOE looks to find comfort from the toil of musical disappointments, relief from the heartache of broken relationships and a remedy from the onslaught of disease by joining a new age church – “The First Church of Appliantology”, owned by L. Ron Hoover (Scientology founder). With salvation promised to him, Joe goes to a dance club to celebrate his new found joy in the turgid disco song, “Stick It Out”. Partially sung in German, this is an upbeat dance song that pushes good taste to the limit (don’t play this for your mom!) Joe picks up a partner, “Sy Borg”, at the club and romances his new date over a quiet storm of funky reggae and trippy avant-jazz moog solos. This song may make you uncomfortable the first time around, but you’ll get used to it. It’s good for you.

The lifestyle finally caught up with him. Joe eventually got arrested for deviant behavior and met a man in jail named Bald-Headed John. The melody, rhythm section, production and imaginative lyrics in the song “Dong Work for Yuda” is Zappa at his peak. The puerile lyrics are 9th grade humor; also the way Zappa liked it. Drummer Terry Bozzio narrates in a made up language (based on the speech patterns of Zappa’s road manager) and the song is peppered with in-jokes from the band. It is impossible to feel gloomy while listening to this slow-paced, doo wop melody. I dare you. “Keep It Greasy” is Joe trying to adapt to a solitary life in jail over a drum beat that alternates between 19/8 and 21/8 making it ridiculously impossible for most humans to play or even tap their feet to the groove. Zappa often used funny or crude lyrics as a tool to get people to pay attention to his more complex serious music (Case in point – The considerable profits from Zappa’s 1982 comedy-rock song “Valley Girl” paid for his hugely expensive classical LPs. London Symphony Orchestra Recordings, Voumes 1 & 2).

In the alienation anthem, “Outside Now”, Joe dreams of being released from jail. This is an oft -covered song by Zappa enthusiasts. This one is in 11/4 and has a beautiful ostinato pattern that flows over the symmetrical vocal round at the end of the piece. At this point, a totalitarian twist is introduced to the story in “He Used to Cut the Grass”. While Joe was in jail, the government outlawed music in America (following Iran’s lead in 1979) to save us from depravity and to control the population. This song is somber and reflective and mostly instrumental guitar improvisation.

If you only listen to two songs on this record, they should be the next two. “Packard Goose” is Frank’s critique of rock journalism. Because he doesn’t have any instrument to play, Joe imagines music in his head in his jail cell. Then he imagines reviewers’ critiques of his imaginary music. Funny. The hidden meaning is that fans opinions matter, not the opinions of journalists that tell fans what is good and what isn’t. (Zappa had a hostile relationship with the rock press, even though they typically fawned over his work.) This piece is a top-tier composition with beautifully constructed complex music, thought-provoking lyrics, and a prog-rock instrumental section reminiscent of 70’s Return to Forever or Gentle Giant. Another amazing Vinnie Colaiuta workout is showcased on this track. This song has the oft-quoted, ‘Music is the Best’ poem that shows up on Zappa social media memes and T-shirts. Bitterness never sounded so righteously beautiful;

Maybe you thought I was the Packard Goose
Or the Ronald MacDonald of the nouveau-abstruse
Well f**k all them people, I don’t need no excuse
For being what I am. Do you hear me, then?
All them rock ‘n roll writers is the worst kind of sleaze
Selling punk like some new kind of English disease
Is that the wave of the future? Aw, spare me please!
Oh no, you gotta go
Who do you write for?
I wanna know
I believe you is the government’s whore
And keeping peoples dumb (I’m really dumb)
Is where you’re coming from
And keeping peoples dumb (I’m really dumb)
Is where you’re coming from
F**k all them writers with the pen in their hand
I will be more specific so they might understand
They can all kiss my ass
But because it’s so grand
They best just stay away. Hey, hey, hey
Hey, Joe, who did you b**w?
Moe pushed the button boy
And you went to the show
Better suck a little harder or the shekels won’t flow
And I don’t mean your thumb (Don’t mean your thumb)
So on your knees you bum
Just tell yourself it’s yum (Yourself it’s yum)
And suck it till you’re numb
Journalism’s kinda scary
And of it we should be wary
Wonder what became of Mary?
VOICE OF MARY’S VISION:
Hi! It’s me . . . the girl from the bus . . .
Remember? The last tour? Well . . .
Information is not knowledge
Knowledge is not wisdom
Wisdom is not truth
Truth is not beauty
Beauty is not love
Love is not music
MUSIC IS THE BEST . . .
Wisdom is the domain of the Wis (which is extinct)
Beauty is a French phonetic corruption
Of a short cloth neck ornament
Currently in resurgence . . .
JOE:
If you’re in the audience and like what we do
Well, we want you to know that we like you all too
But as for the sucker who will write the review
If his mind is prehensile (Mind is prehensile)
He’ll put down his pencil (Put down his pencil)
And have himself a squat
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil)
Give it all you got
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil)
Sit ‘n spin until you rot
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil)
He really needs to squat
On the Cosmic Utensil (Cosmic Utensil) (Cosmic Utensil)
Now that I got that over with
I’ll just play my imaginary guitar again
Hey . . . hah . . . soundin’ pretty good there, me!
Ah . . . get down . . . UH!
Boy, what an imagination!
Love myself better than I love myself . . . I think . . .
What tone! Sounds like an Elegant Gypsy!
What is that? Musk? It’s hip!

“Watermelon in Easter Hay” is possibly the most beautiful instrumental that Zappa ever wrote. It’s a guitar melody, in the style of David Gilmore that Joe hears in his head but cannot play since he is still in jail. The expressive guitar line soars over a beat in 9/4 and builds to a climax with gongs, marimbas, chimes and mallets. This haunting emotional odyssey is atypical for Frank since his guitar playing is more commonly in the ‘mangle it, strangle it’ style of the solo section. Even Zappa’s harshest critics confessed that it was one of the most gorgeous pieces of music ever produced.

The final track, the goofy coda “A Little Green Rosetta”, tells of Joe’s decision to quit the music business in order to restore his sanity. He gets a new job making cupcakes at the Utility Muffin Research Kitchen (Zappa’s newly completed recording studio.) This pleases the Central Scrutinizer, who’s narrated the entire story up until this song. The song has a cast-party sing along from the band members and staff and concludes the story on a happy note.

Joe’s Garage was released at the mid-point of Zappa’s career and expanded his reach to a new generation of rock fans. The record peaked at number 27 on the Billboard charts. It has been called one of Zappa’s most important late ’70s works and overall political statements. Highly recommended for lovers of liberty. For his performance on Joe’s Garage, Vinnie Colaiuta was named ‘the most technically advanced drummer ever’ by Modern Drummer, which ranked the album as one of the top 25 greatest drumming performances of all time. If you are offended by George Carlin’s list of 7 dirty words, it’s best to skip this fine collection and check out Hot Rats, Zappa’s Grammy-winning, 1969 instrumental jazz-fusion album. No bad words on that one. Freedom of speech can get gross at times.

Without deviation from the norm, progress is not possible”.
– Frank Zappa

Ron Simasek is a profession drummer, former member of The Badlees and current member of Gentlemen East, who has performed with dozens of artists and played on hundreds of recordings.

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Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

‘Til the Medicine Takes by Widespread Panic

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Til the Medicine Takes by Widespread PanicThe 1999 release of ‘Til the Medicine Takes was Widespread Panic‘s sixth studio album and it finely displays the musical breadth of this Athens, Georgia based Southern rock/jam sextet in their prime. Here, the group refined their legendary live performances into a dozen succinct tracks which do well to maintain their diversity and dynamics. The result is a fine mixture of blues, country, Americana, psychedelia, and standard hard rock which is still a fresh and pleasant listen two decades later.

The origins of Widespread Panic date back to the early eighties when vocalist John Bell and guitarist Michael Houser formed a duo at the University of Georgia. Later on in the decade, bassist Dave Schools, drummer Todd Nance and percussionist Domingo Ortiz joined to officially initiate the group Widespread Panic, named for panic attacks frequently experienced by Houser. Through these years the group developed a fusion of Southern rock, alt country and Grateful Dead-like improv techniques in their live shows. After producing an independent album called Space Wrangler, the group signed with Capricorn Records and released their self-titled debut in 1991. Soon the group expanded regionally and nationally and expanded their lineup by adding keyboardist John “JoJo” Hermann in 1992. A series of subsequent studio releases followed through the mid 1990s, with the group releasing their much heralded live album, Light Fuse, Get Away, released in 1998 in conjunction with a free concert in their hometown of Athens Georgia.

‘Til the Medicine Takes was recorded at producer John Keane‘s studio in Athens, the same studio the group had previously used for Space Wrangler as well as their 1995 studio album Ain’t Life Grand. Keane brought in several guest musicians to contribute to several tracks on the album.


‘Til the Medicine Takes by Widespread Panic
Released: July 27, 1999 (Capricorn)
Produced by: John Keane
Recorded: Athens, GA, January 1999
Track Listing Group Musicians
Surprise Valley
Bear’s Gone Fishin’
Climb to Safety
Blue Indian
The Waker
Party at Your Mama’s House
Dyin’ Man
You’ll Be Fine
One Arm Steve
Christmas Katie
All Time Low
Nobody’s Loss
John Bell – Vocals, Guitar
Michael Houser – Guitar, Vocals
John Hermann – Keyboards, Vocals
Dave Schools – Bass
Todd Nance – Drums, Vocalss
Domingo S. Ortiz – Percussion

Til the Medicine Takes by Widespread Panic

 

The longest track on the album is the six-minute opener “Surprise Valley”, it slowly works its way into a groove through a long intro and guitar lead. Then, after a single verse enters another long break for riffing, guitar lead, percussion interlude and organ lead before a second verse leads nicely to diffused outro. On “Bear’s Gone Fishin'”, the funky jazz with ethereal keys sets the stage for the verses with baritone vocals by Bell and choruses that are much more rock-oriented to make this song very interesting and entertaining, While most songs are collectively composed by the group, the exception on this album is “Climb to Safety”, written by Jerry Joseph and Glen Esparanza, with a heavier sound built on a rock riff and artistically strained vocals.

With the lyric that gives ‘Til the Medicine Takes its title, “Blue Indian” is folksy with classic country elements throughout and driven mainly by Hermann’s piano. The tightest and best executed recording thus far, this song also features a lazy guitar lead by Houser which works with the overall classic American sound with plenty of subtle sonic candy. “The Waker” follows with an upbeat Western style complete with banjo provided by Keane, while “Party at Your Mama’s House” is a pleasant and mellow instrumental built on acoustic and layered electric riffing and fine drum/percussion backing throughout. Changing pace once again, “Dyin’ Man” is a funky track with looped rap-record scratches and other background effects in contrast to the rock guitars and harmonized vocals, while “You’ll Be Fine” is a short, mellow, sad ballad with exquisite vocal arrangements and terrific sonic execution at every level, topped by the tone of Houser’s guitar lead.

Widespread Panic in 1999

A real gem from this album is “One Arm Steve”, featuring simple, layered riffs and accent notes joined by Schools’ effective bass and Hermann’s animated piano throughout. The double vocal effects deliver the storyteller lyrics, which tell the story of a junky’s adventures and hardships with an array of supporting characters ranging from baseball legend Willie Mays to the mysterious title character. “Christmas Katie” further expands the group’s array of styles as a New Orleans-flavored track featuring convincing vocal delivery and an array of guest players known as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. “All Time Low” is a pure Southern rocker highlighted by the excited, Gospel-influenced vocals of guest Dottie Peoples in the song’s coda, while the duo percussion attack by Nance and Ortiz takes a break for the stripped down closer, “Nobody’s Loss”, a pure acoustic country waltz with rich vocal harmonies and Keane providing pedal steel guitar.

While ‘Til the Medicine Takes only peaked at #68 on the Billboard 200 chart, it was an overall success for this mainly non-commercial group. As the new century began, Widespread Panic developed their own label Widespread Records for the follow-up album Don’t Tell the Band in 2001. Sadly, that would be Michael Houser’s final studio album with the group as he died from pancreatic cancer in 2002.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Get the Knack by The Knack

Buy Get the Knack

Get the Knack by The KnackGet the Knack was one of those rare debut albums that became the singular phenomenal success defining  a band’s career. Released in the beginning of summer 1979, this album by The Knack was, at the time, one of the most successful debut records in history. The dozen tunes that make up this shooting star of an album combine timely, glossed-up pop/punk aesthetics with suggestive and borderline risque lyrics to make a potent combination which struck at chord among the youth at the end of the 1970s.

In May 1978, less than a year before recording their successful debut, the quartet was formed in Los Angeles. Vocalist Doug Fieger and guitarist Berton Averre had previously formed a songwriting partnership and were able to hit the ground running with the new band and quickly gain a following. By the end of 1978, The Knack was courted by several major record labels and the group decided to sign with Capitol Records in January 1979.

In April 1979, the album was recorded in just two weeks with producer Mike Chapman. Upon its release and aggressive marketing campaign, Get the Knack was an immediate success. It went Gold in less than two weeks, sold more than a million copies in less than two months, and spent five weeks at number one on the US album charts, ultimately becoming one of the best selling albums of 1979.


Get the Knack by The Knack
Released: June 11, 1979 (Capital)
Produced by: Mike Chapman
Recorded: April 1979
Side One Side Two
Let Me Out
Your Number or Your Name
Oh Tara
(She’s So) Selfish
Maybe Tonight
Good Girls Don’t
My Sharona
Heartbeat
Siamese Twins (The Monkey and Me)
Lucinda
That’s What the Little Girls Do
Frustrated
Group Musicians
Doug Fieger – Lead Vocals, Guitars
Berton Averre – Guitars
Prescott Niles – Bass
Bruce Gary – Drums

 

By far the record;s most popular track, “My Sharona” features a riff built on  an infectious beat by drummer Bruce Gary, with My Sharona single by The Knacka melody and repeated lyrical motifs that made this the number one pop song of the year. The song further features a cool instrumental break with an extended guitar lead that gives it much classic rock cred and helps make it an indelible listen even after 40 years. The song was written by Fieger for his then 17-year-old girlfriend Sharona Alperin, who appeared on promotional copies of the single.

Unfortunately, “My Sharona” is the only true highlight of the album’s second side, which includes a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat”, the new wave spaz of “Siamese Twins (The Monkey and Me)”, the jangly power pop of “That’s What the Little Girls Do” and the anthemic closer “Frustrated”. The only slightly original track on Side 2 is “Lucinda”, which features cleverly built guitar phrases.

The first side is much more interesting overall, starting with the relentless drive of “Let Me Out”, a quasi punk teen anthem with definite Cheap Trick influence. “Your Number or Your Name” has a calmer melody while maintaining the fast and upbeat rhythms of the opener, while “Oh Tara” introduces a more complex arrangement with animated bass by Prescott Niles which helps give this upbeat new wave song an overall feel like a ballad. The first and only actual ballad on the album is Fieger’s “Maybe Tonight”, with a finely strummed electric guitar is joined by an acoustic and some strategic overdubs and tape effects, including backwards masked drum cymbals, pedal-laden guitar effects, double-vocal effects and rich harmonies.

The Knack in 1979

Then there’s the two most controversial songs on the album, both of which originally contained explicitly vulgar lyrics which were later changed to make these suitable for airplay. “(She’s So) Selfish” features a deliberately slow drum beat through its long intro before getting to the lyrics which have been criticized as being sexist and downright nasty. The hit song “Good Girls Don’t” is built an intro harmonica riff with an overall excellent melody and chorus hook as a pure example of late seventies pop rock. Originally written by Fieger in 1972, the song was made radio-friendly by altering the lyric “wishing you could get inside her pants” to “wishing she was givin’ you a chance”.

With the overnight success of Get the Knack, a strong backlash materialized against The Knack in the music industry. This was magnified when their quickly recorded follow-up album, …But the Little Girls Understand and its related single releases were all commercial flops in 1980. This sharp contrast of endeavors soon led to internal dissent within the group and, by mid-1982, the Knack split up.

~

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1979 albums.

1979 Images

 

Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers

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Californication by Red Hot Chili PeppersIn 1999, Red Hot Chili Peppers released their seventh studio album, Californication.   This would become the group’s most successful album internationally, selling more than 15 million copies worldwide. Lyrically, this record takes a critical look at many aspects of the group’s home state of California. While musically, it featured fewer rap-driven tunes and instead focused more on the bass lines and textured, melodic guitar riffs of John Frusciante, who returned to the group after a multi-year hiatus.

Frusciante was uncomfortable with the level of fame which resulted following the group’s 1991 Grammy-winning blockbuster Blood Sugar Sex Magik and he abruptly quit Red Hot Chili Peppers during a tour of Japan in May 1992. Guitarists Arik Marshall and Jesse Tobias were brought in as temporary replacements before Dave Navarro, formally of Jane’s Addiction, became the group’s permanent guitarist throughout the mid nineties, including the 1995 album One Hot Minute. In early 1998, Navarro left the band due to creative differences. Around the same time, Frusciante began recovering from a serious a heroin addiction, due in part from support by bassist Flea and was ultimately invited back into the band.

Material for Californication was written in the summer of 1998, with Frusciante an vocalist Anthony Kiedis taking the lead in formulating guitar riffs and lyrical content respectively. Next, the rhythmic aspects of the record were crafted by Flea and drummer Chad Smith before the group entered the studio and recorded with producer Rick Rubin over the Winter of 1998-99. Although Rubin had produced the group’s two previous studio albums, he was not their first choice as they had first unsuccessfully sought David Bowie as producer.


Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers
Released: June 8, 1999 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Rick Rubin
Recorded: Cello Studios, Los Angeles, December 1998–March 1999
Track Listing Group Musicians
Around the World
Parallel Universe
Scar Tissue
Otherside
Get on Top
Californication
Easily
Porcelain
Emit Remmus
I Like Dirt
This Velvet Glove
Savior
Purple Stain
Right on Time
Road Trippin’
Anthony Kiedis – Lead Vocals
John Frusciante – Guitar, Keyboards, Vocals
Flea – Bass, Vocals
Chad Smith – Drums, Percussion

Californication by Red Hot Chili Peppers

 

The opening track “Around the World” starts with wild, distorted bass frenzy by Flea before it settles into a funk rap for the verses, alternating with a melodic chorus. “Parallel Universe” was released as a single and its structure is built by rapid bass arpeggio and a slow vocal melody drone, making it all sound a bit hollow with no real low end or guitar until later on in wild ending crescendo by Frusciante. The melodic funk/rap/pop of “Scar Tissue” follows as a song highlighted by slow surf guitar interludes. The lead single from the album, this song spent a then record sixteen consecutive weeks on top of the Modern Rock Tracks chart, while peaking in the Top 10 of the American pop chart.

“Otherside” is the most straightforward rock/pop thus far on the album, albeit it does pay large homage to early nineties grunge rock. With choppy, piercing guitars, a signature bass riff and a steady drum beat by Smith, this song about the battles addicts face was another minor hit for the group. Next comes the unabashed funk rap of “Get on Top”, which may well be fun in a live setting but is a bit out of place on this position of the album. On the title track, Frusciante expertly uses two chords to accompany Kiedis’s great vocals in the verses. A break comes in the chorus release followed later by a cool, slight guitar lead, for an expert anthem overall about the dark side of Hollywood and the movie industry. “Easily” follows as a good, solid rock song with great layered guitars throughout, while “Porcelain” is an impossibly slow psychedelic ballad right out of the late sixties. The feedback-laden”Emit Remmus” (“summer time” spelled in reverse) squeals through the intro and verses over simple bass and drum beat.

Red Hot Chili Peppers in 1999

The latter part of the album branches out into more diverse musical territory. “I Like Dirt” moves from rudimentary funk to a rapid groove, “This Velvet Glove” is acoustic with layers on top for a differing musical vibe, and “Savior” could almost be considered a hard rock song with strong, penetrating rhythms. “Purple Stain” is a word-heavy, chanting funk/rap, with a later jam section that is somewhat proficient, while “Right on Time” weirdly alternates a punk style funks with a bit of disco. This all leads to the closer “Road Trippin'”, an acoustic folk with rich harmonies and overdubbed strings, addressing one final time the dark and seedy side of Hollywood and its culture.

Californication reached the Top 5 in both the US and UK, while topping the album charts of four other nations. The band followed its release by embarking on a world tour to support the record, which stretched into the next millennium, concluding a tremendously successful decade Red Hot Chili Peppers.

~

1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

In Step by Stevie Ray Vaughn

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in Step by Stevie Ray VaughnAfter a four year hiatus from recording, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble finally released their fourth studio album, In Step in June 1989. The album’s title refers to Vaughan’s long process of finding sobriety following a lifetime of alcohol and drug abuse which nearly took his life in 1986. This critically acclaimed and Grammy award winning album is considered Vaughn’s best by many as it masterfully blends straightforward lyrics with a musical blend of blues, soul, and rock.

Guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn formed Double Trouble in 1978 with bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton. However, they would not achieve mainstream success until the mid 1980s after Vaughn was featured on David Bowie’s platinum-selling 1983 album Let’s Dance. The group was signed to Epic Records and released their debut album, Texas Flood followed quickly by Couldn’t Stand the Weather in 1984, with each peaking in the Top 40 on the album charts. For the group’s third studio album, Soul to Soul, keyboardist Reese Wynans was hired as a fourth member of the band. After constant touring which included several sold out show recordings for the 1986 double live album Live Alive, Vaughan collapsed after a performance in Germany and nearly lost his life. Vaughn went through rehabilitation soon afterwards.

In late 1988, Double Trouble enlisted producer Jim Gaines to work on their long awaited fourth album, a first for the group which had self-produced their previous albums. After aborted attempts to record in New York City, recording sessions were moved to Memphis and later Los Angeles, where a small horn section was added to augment the sound.


Journeyman by Stevie Ray Vaughn
Released: June 6, 1989 (Epic)
Produced by: Jim Gaines & Double Trouble
Recorded: Kiva Studios, Memphis, & Sound Castle and Summa Studios, Los Angeles, January–March, 1989
Track Listing Primary Musicians
The House Is Rockin
Crossfire
Tightrope
Let Me Love You Baby
Leave My Girl Alone
Travis Walk
Wall of Denial
Scratch-N-Sniff
Love Me Darlin’
Riviera Paradise
Stevie Ray Vaughn – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Dobro
Reese Wynans – Keyboards
Tommy Shannon – Bass
Chris Layton – Drums, Percussion

In Step by Stevie Ray Vaughn

 

The album explodes into action with the fun stomp, “The House Is Rockin'”, co-written by Doyle Bramhall, a longtime associate of both Stevie Ray and older brother Jimmy Vaughan of The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Ironically, the first real lead on the album is a fine piano solo by Wynans before Vaughn adds his own blistering short guitar lead. “Crossfire” was a group composition with a groovy bass line by Shannon setting the perfect foundation for the bluesy guitar licks between each line. A real highlight of this track which topped the mainstream rock charts comes near the song’s end where Vaughn’s guitar takes off into a choppy crescendo to complete the track.

Bramhall and Vaughan’s “Tightrope” continues the string of entertaining grooves, with Vaughn’s vocals being particularly soulful and potent here on this track with overt lyrics about the struggles to stay clean. Next comes a couple of blues cover tunes – Willie Dixon’s entertaining “Let Me Love You Baby” with great, upbeat movement, and Buddy Guy’s “Leave My Girl Alone”, a slow, traditional blues delivered perfectly, especially with Wynans’ subtle background organ and Vaughn’s fantastic vocals. “Travis Walk” is a short but interesting instrumental with just enough space for piano and guitar lead sections.

Stevie Ray Vaughn

The best track of the latter part of the album is “Wall of Denial”, built on rotating riffs for an upbeat effect to an otherwise moderately paced song. The great rhythmic accents by Layton and the array of differing guitar tones employed by Vaughn along with a cool, ascending effect all work to make this an overall great tune. “Scratch-N-Sniff” delves into old time rock n’ roll, piano and rhythm driven with Vaugn’s vocals falling somewhere between Chuck Berry and Adam Ant, while “Love Me Darlin'” is a perfect rendition of Muddy Waters classic. The album concludes with the deliberative and jazzy instrumental “Riviera Paradise”, which persists for nearly nine minutes but remains interesting due to various lead sections and subtle mood changes.

In Step was Vaughan’s most commercially successful album, spending nearly a year on the charts and being certified gold. Tragically, this would be his final with Double Trouble as Stevie Ray Vaughn was killed in a helicopter crash in August 1990.

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1989 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1989 albums.

 

Echo by Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers

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Echo by Tom Petty and the HeartbreakersClosing out the century with their tenth studio album, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers blended folk/rock arrangements with introspective lyrical themes on Echo. The album’s tracks were composed and produced in the wake of Tom Petty‘s divorce from his wife of two decades and his own subsequent bought of depression and the isolation of living alone in a cabin. Petty stated that in this era he didn’t see a lot of people because he wasn’t happy and “didn’t want to lay that on everybody”.

Prior to Echo, Petty had been on a decade-long streak of commercial and critical success. In 1988 he became a member of the impromptu super group The Traveling Wilburys, immediately followed by the phenomenal success of Petty’s 1989 debut solo record, Full Moon Fever. In the 1990s, Petty alternated albums between the Heartbreakers (Into the Great Wide Open in 1991 and She’s the One in 1996) and solo (Wildflowers in 1994), all of which achieved great success in charting and airplay. During this era, the group also released a 1993 Greatest Hits compilation, which reached number 1 on the album charts and went Platinum a dozen times over, as well as Playback, a 1995 six-disc box set.

Echo was produced by Rick Rubin and recorded over the span of 1997 and 1998. Rubin had previously produced Wildflowers and She’s the One and had enlisted the Heartbreakers in backing up the legendary Johnny Cash on his 1996 album , Unchained.


Echo by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
Released: April 13, 1999 (Warner Bros.)
Produced by: Tom Petty, Mike Campbell & Rick Rubin
Recorded: 1997–1998
Track Listing Primary Musicians
Room at the Top
Counting on You
Free Girl Now
Lonesome Sundown
Swingin’
Accused of Love
Echo
Won’t Last Long
Billy the Kid
I Don’t Wanna Fight
This One’s for Me
No More
About to Give Out
Rhino Skin
One More Day, One More Night
Tom Petty – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Harmonica
Mike Campbell – Guitars, Vocals
Benmont Tench – Piano, Keyboards
Howie Epstein – Bass, Vocals
Steve Ferrone – Drums
 
Echo by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

 

At over an hour of running time, Echo is a 15-song album with the length of a traditional double LP. It is book-ended by tracks which share the common theme of isolation and observation. The opening “Room at the Top” is a melancholy lament of lost love which Petty later described as one of the most depressing songs in rock history”. The closing “One More Day, One More Night” is a bluesy ballad which concludes with Mike Campbell‘s understated blues rock guitar lead. In between these two tracks is an ebb-and-flow of songs of high and low moods and arrangements.

“Counting on You” is a crisp folk-rock track with a fine rotation of sonic ear candy including piercing guitar licks, electric piano and slight fiddle. Harkening back to the group’s late seventies post-punk era, “Free Girl Now” is an upbeat rocker which comes down for a cool third verse with picked electric guitar and choppy organ by Benmont Tench. This song was the lead single from the album and it reached the Top 10 the Mainstream Rock charts. Tench’s country-esque piano introduces the ballad “Lonesome Sundown” which hits some nice chords and features Petty’s vocals at top notch, hitting some of the higher notes in his range. The next track, “Swingin'” is a fine example of Petty’s interpretation of Bob Dylan’s style, while “Accused of Love” is a bright and upbeat acoustic pop song. The title track, “Echo” is a sad acoustic ballad driven by Petty’s melancholy lyrics.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

The album’s latter half features some of its more interesting tunes, “Won’t Last Long” features a blend of driving, double strummed acoustic guitars in the verse and complex vocals patterns in the chorus along with a mid section where everything come down to reveal a subtle, penny-whistle organ. The acoustic “Billy the Kid” is topped off by tremolo guitar and backed with strong drum beat by Steve Ferrone, the newest member of the Heartbreakers. Campbell’s “I Don’t Wanna Fight” is a unique song in the Heartbreaker’s catalog, as this quasi-punk hard rocker is the only one to feature a lead vocal from someone other than Petty, while “This One’s for Me” is a bright and melodic ode to self interest. The sad but beautiful ballad “No More” features strings, percussion and other sweet instrumentation and effects in the arrangement, as the mood comes back up on “About to Give Out”, featuring a country-boogie piano lead by Tench. The album climaxes with the profound “Rhino Skin”, with the sharp lyrics accompanied by deadened guitar accompanied by a moody string arrangement and Howie Epstein‘s sharp bass rhythms.

Sadly, Echo would be the final album Heartbreakers’ album to feature Epstein,, who died in 2003 from a heroin overdose. Due to the painful memories associated with this album, Petty did not listen to this album for many years after its release, but was pleasantly surprised by its quality when his wife insisted they listen to during a long drive together.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.

 

Crimson and Clover by
Tommy James & the Shondells

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Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the ShondellsTommy James and the Shondells hit their creative and commercial climax  in 1969 with their sixth studio album, Crimson and Clover. This album combines some heavy psychedelic elements with the group’s core pop/R&B sensibilities for a potent cross-section of authentic fine sixties music. Crimson and Clover is also the first album in which the group’s leader, vocalist and guitarist Tommy James, played a large part in composing the bulk of the material.

The group’s roots stretch back a decade to 1959 in Michigan, when a 12-year-old James formed Tom and the Tornadoes, with the group releasing its first single, “Long Pony Tail”, in 1962. James renamed the band the Shondells in 1964 when they recorded the single “Hanky Panky” for local label Snap Records, which was a modest local hit in the Midwest but not big enough to keep the original Shondells together past high school graduation. The following year, a Pittsburgh dance promoter discovered the single and played it at various events and on radio stations, generating enough interest to attract James to play shows in Western Pennsylvania. A second version of the backing band was recruited in Greensburg, PA, including keyboardist Ron Rosman and bassist Mike Vale.

With this new touring group, James made a deal with Roulette Records to receive national promotion, which drove “Hanky Panky” to number 1 on the pop charts in July 1966. More success quickly followed, including the Top Ten hits “I Think We’re Alone Now” (1967), “Mirage” (1968) and “Mony Mony” (1968), all of which were penned by outside writers. In late 1968, the group was given artistic control by Roulette and decided to take a new direction by writing their own songs and self-producing their next album, Crimson and Clover.


Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells
Released: January, 1969 (Roulette)
Produced by: Tommy James and the Shondells
Recorded: 1968
Side One Side Two
Crimson and Clover
Kathleen McArthur
I’m a Tangerine
Do Something to Me
Crystal Blue Persuasion
Sugar on Sunday
Breakaway
Smokey Roads
I’m Alive
Group Musicians
Tommy James – Lead Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Eddie Gray – Guitars, Vocals
Ron Rosman – Keyboards, Vocals
Mike Vale – Bass, Vocals
Peter Lucia – Drums, Percussion, Vocals

 

Co-written by drummer Peter Lucia, the album’s opening title track is a juxtaposition of James soulful vocals and the heavily treated tremolo guitar effect. This sets the stage for the overall vibe of “Crimson and Clover”, which was recorded by James, Vale and Lucia as an intended single, released ahead of the album in late 1968 and topped the US pop charts in February 1969. The song was also a hit internationally, reaching number one in six other nations. The next track, “Kathleen McArthur”, is an English folk style tune complete with harpsichord, flute and lyrics about a servant falling secretly for the daughter of his aristocratic employer, while “I’m a Tangerine” appears to be an overt attempt at psychedelic pop with strong influence from early Pink Floyd.

“Do Something to Me” is the album’s only cover track but this Top 40 hit takes a refreshing turn back to straight-forward rock n’ roll with an Elvis inspired revival complete with a “fake” live audience reaction such as whistling, hooting and hollering. The album’s best overall song is “Crystal Blue Persuasion”, co-written by guitarist Eddie Gray, features a unique and excellent blend of psychedelic guitar, soul bass, hand percussion, flamenco acoustic and melodic vocals. Later on Vale’s bass leads into a key change upward that completes this song as a classic,which made it to #2 on the charts.

Tommy James and the Shondells

The rest of the album features a diverse set of interesting songs. “Sugar on Sunday” dips back into the psychedelic bubblegum, although this one does have some interesting elements, with an almost Gospel-like feel from the backing vocals. “Breakaway” is harder rock and experimental with a combination of fuzz guitar and basic soul piano providing dueling arrangements and a slight mid section led by bass. Backwards-masked spoken vocals leads to the ballad “Smokey Roads”, featuring some interesting drum transitions by Lucia, while “I’m Alive” features sharp guitars that break through the thumping rhythms and is thematically celebratory. The album concludes with an alternate take of the title track’s coda section to bring it all full circle.

In the year it was released, Crimson and Clover reached the Top 10 of the album charts and maintained its esteem through the next half century. However, the group did not persist much longer, as the Shondells disbanded in early 1970 when Tommy James collapsed after a show and was initially pronounced dead. He did recover and launched a solo career shortly after.

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1968 Images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of 1969 albums.

 

The Badlees 1999 albums

Buy Amazing Grace
Buy Up There Down Here

The Badlees 1999 albumsIn the mid 1990s, The Badlees were a fast rising group, newly signed to major label Polydor and with a national selling album that spawned a couple of mainstream hits. There was great anticipation for a follow-up by this Pennsylvania based folk rock band and recording for Up There, Down Here, anticipated for release in late 1997, was completed on time. However, some corporate entanglement brought on by rapid changes in the traditional music industry caused several delays in releasing the album until, ultimately, the group made a brash decision to put the music itself ahead of the label concerns. In early 1999, the Badlees independently produced and released a wholly separate album, Amazing Grace, which caused Polydor to immediately sever ties with the group. A few months later, the group signed with Ark 21 Records and finally released Up There, Down Here, meaning the space between the group’s fourth and fifth albums was just four months while it had been over four years between their third and fourth LPs.

That third album, 1995’s River Songs was originally released independently but then re-released internationally following the group’s record deal. The group toured relentlessly in support of the album, opening up for several major acts through 1995 and 1996. The following year, the group turned their attention to writing and recording material for their next album, a second national release on Polydor that was originally slated for late 1997 but soon pushed moved back to a planned February 1998 release. Recording took place at Bearsville Recording Studio near Woodstock, New York with producer Joe Alexander for the album that would ultimately be titled Up There, Down Here. Guitarist Bret Alexander and bassist Paul Smith added some overdubs and did some mixing at Alexander’s home studio in Pennsylvania in time for the anticipated February release. However, the date of album release got pushed back three more times, the final time to “date uncertain”. Still under contract and restricted in the actions they could take to further their career, the group requested and received permission to release a 5-song “unplugged” EP called The Day’s Parade in July 1998.

The quickly recorded and unplanned release of the EP was confusing to the Badlees fans and critics alike, who were expecting a new full length production and didn’t know about the corporate wrangling going on behind the scenes. The band was confused as well, as an already-bought-and-paid for high-end production remained on the shelf through late 1998 and into 1999. After several inquiries were ignored by the label, they decided to simply start from scratch with a new full-length album independently produced without consent or input from the label.

Amazing Grace Up There, Down Here
Released: April 2, 1999 (Rite-Off)
Produced by: Bret Alexander
Recorded: Bret Alexander’s Studio, Wapwallopen, PA, Early 1999
Released: August 24, 1999 (Ark 21)
Produced by: Joe Alexander & The Badlees
Recorded: Bearsville Recording Studio, Bearsville, NY, 1997
I’m Not Here Anymore
Long Goodnight
Poison Ivy
Ain’t No Man
Amazing Grace to You
Beyond These Walls
Time Turns Around
Appalachian Scream
A Fever
Gone
In a Minor Way”
Don’t Let Me Hide
Luther’s Window
Thinking in Ways
Which One of You
Little Hell
34 Winters
Middle of the Busiest Road
Cellarbird & Zither
Running Up That Hill
Love All
Silly Little Man
The Second Coming of Chris
A Little Faith
Group Musicians (Both Albums)
Pete Palladino – Vocals, Harmonica
Bret Alexander – Guitars, Mandolin, Dobro, Dulcimer, Banjo, Vocals
Jeff Feltenberger – Guitars, Vocals
Paul Smith – Bass, Keyboards, Vocals
Ron Simasek – Drums, Percussion

 

Amazing Grace was recorded, mixed, mastered, and pressed in just two months at Alexander’s home studio and it features the most diverse array of songwriting and styles of any Badlees’ album. It also features lead vocals by four of the five group members, a strong departure from all previous material where vocalist Pete Palladino sang lead on nearly all previous songs.

Amazing Grace by The BadleesPalladino does provide vocals on the sad and melancholy opener, “I’m Not Here Anymore”, where Alexander accents the mood with a whiny guitar and subtle piano riff. “Long Goodnight” is one of two songs on the album written by Smith. This fast-paced, upbeat, catchy rocker, would soon become a crowd favorite at shows and got some regional airplay. Smith’s other contribution is the soulful “Ain’t No Man”, featuring creative drums and percussion by Ron Simasek and lead vocals by the bassist himself.

The catchy “Poison Ivy” is the first of several showcases by Alexander. Led by a banjo riff, the music moves briskly while the harsh words speak of dealing with a toxic personality. The title track “Amazing Grace to You” is the most inventive and rewarding track on the album with wild, spoken word verses accompanied by wild and unruly guitars, a Hammond organ by guest Robert Scott Richardson and a tense 5/4 time signature by Simasek which breaks free for Alexander’s desperate wailing during the choruses.

The rest of Amazing Grace features a diverse array of short songs. “Beyond These Walls” is a classic Badlees pop rocker, while “Time Turns Around” is a distinct jazzy ballad led by Alexander’s crooning vocals. Guitarist Jeff Feltenberger composed and took lead vocals on the blue-grass tinged “Appalachian Scream”, followed by the subtle beauty of “A Fever”, co-written by Palladino and long time band collaborator Mike Naydock. The album wraps with two more Alexander-led tunes, the slightly psychedelic ballad “Gone” and the Tom-Petty-esque rocker “In a Minor Way”.

The Badlees in 1999

Amazing Grace was released on the band’s independent Rite-Off label on April 2, 1999 and the Badlees were dropped from Polydor on that very day. Alexander referred to this as the Badlees “White Album” because of its eclectic styles and diversity of voices. At the time, it was assumed that the recordings for Up There, Down Here were casualties of the move. However, some other personnel from Polydor were now at a new label called Ark 21, owned by Miles Copeland, who had previously co-founded I.R.S. Records and by May 1999 a deal was in place for the Badlees and their nearly two-year old record, with the provision that they would stop any promotion of their recently-released Amazing Grace album.

Up There Down Here by The BadleesThe opening track on Up There, Down Here, “Don’t Let Me Hide” is the highest quality and most well-known song on the album, with a profound lyric, subtle, moody guitars and excellent high harmonies that complement the strong lead vocals of Palladino. “Luther’s Window” follows with interesting musical changes and lyrics about examining different perspectives;

Turn your back to the sun, you see only shadows, look beneath the stars and you see only night…”

The beautifully atmospheric “Thinking in Ways” features fine orchestration, precise yet intricate drumming by Simasek and subject matter which may refer to a prepaid funeral? This followed by a trio of catchy, pop-oriented tunes, “Which One of You”, “Little Hell” and “Middle of the Busiest Road”. Feltenberger’s “34 Winters” is another beautiful but melancholy song with Jeff providing some fantastic vocal trade-offs between himself and Palladino. After Alexander’s interesting but odd instrumental “Cellarbird & Zither” comes the darkly inspirational “Running Up That Hill” and the catchy “Love All”. The album concludes with three interesting tracks, the Beatle-influenced “Silly Little Man” with great drums and guitars, the mechanical and quirky “The Second Coming of Chris”, and stripped-down acoustic ballad, “A Little Faith”, a nice break on this otherwise richly produced album.

With the album that the band had prepared for and worked on for nearly half a decade finally released in August 1999, the Badlees were once again disappointed when Ark 21 was unable to help promote the record nationally. The label soon declared bankruptcy and the group returned to their roots as an independent band as they continued off and on for the next decade and a half.

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1999 images

Part of Classic Rock Review’s celebration of the 20th anniversary of 1999 albums.